Understanding the grief that comes with being childless

Childless Yvonne John celebrates the birth of her first book 'Dreaming of a life unlived'
Childless Yvonne John celebrates the birth of her first book 'Dreaming of a life unlived'

Stopsley laboratory manager Yvonne John never realised she wanted children until she was told she had unexplained infertility.

“I was surprisingly devastated,” she says. “I’ve never been a maternal person and wasn’t desperate to have a child but the news left me lost, confused and extremely emotional.

“I found I couldn’t be around friends who had young families and became very tearful at the sight of babies.”
She was advised to continue trying naturally or consider IVF. But as she was 43, she and her husband David would have had to fund this themselves – at a cost of between £4,000 and £8,000 a cycle.

She says: “When I was younger, I thought if that and adoption were my only options, I would have jumped at the chance.

“But I realised adopting a child would just have covered my sadness and IVF would not only have put a financial burden on our relationship, but would also have delayed the grief I was desperate to understand.”

A friend introduced her to Jody Day, founder of the organisation Gateway Women (GW), a support network for the childless.

Yvonne says: “The idea that I was experiencing grief didn’t make any sense as I hadn’t lost anything, but it was explained that I was mourning the loss of my unborn children.”

She then attended a workshop to help women in her situation find a meaningful life without offspring. And that’s when the idea of the book was born.

“I wanted to give women in the support group a voice, I wanted us to be heard,” she explains. “I wanted people to understand what it’s like to be in our position, to be allowed to grieve and scream ‘It sucks to be here.’

“We want others to acknowledge our grief, to say ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this’ or ‘That must be hard.’”
Yvonne saying writing the book – Dreaming of a Life Unlived: Intimate Advice and Portraits of Women Without Children – took 12 months.

She admits it was a very emotional journey but that it was also a therapeutic and healing process: “I hope it will help other women who are childless to hear it is OK to feel the way they do, to understand that they are grieving and there is help out there to reclaim their joy and find a fulfilling life - but most importantly to know they are not alone.

“Talking with other women who ‘get it’ helped me deal with my pain. Finally I didn’t feel like I was going mad. I had a place where it was normal and acceptable to feel the way I did.”

She adds: “Statistics show that one in five women in the UK have turned 45 without having children.

“I am one of them.”